Tag: #reading

Farthest Field-An Indian Story Of The Second World War~ Raghu Karnad

“People have two deaths:the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely”

Raghu Karnad, Farthest Fields

Photographs of three young men, framed in dull silver frames, stood on tabletops in a house in Madras. The photographs were to remind people of three brothers-in-law, Godrej Mugaseth(Bobby), Kodandera Ganapthy (Ganny) and Manek Dadabhoy. The three joined the largest volunteer army, the Indian Army, to fight in World WarII. Bobby joined Bengal Sappers as an army engineer. Ganny, a doctor, joined the Indian Medical Services and was stationed at Thal. Manek became an officer in the Indian Air Force and was dispatched to North-East Frontier. All three perished in World War II. Ganny from acute bronchitis, Manek’s plane crashed inside the Indian lines on the North-East frontier and Bobby was lost in the jungles of North-East. The three were minor cogs in the war machine and the impact of their death was only felt in their immediate family. Over the years the stories, hidden behind the veil of stoicism, became blurred. Until finally the author’s curiosity was piqued by the photographs in his grandmother’s home and this book was born.

The book starts idyllically with Godrej Mugaseth aka Bobby, enjoying his pampered life as the son of a rich Parsi businessman of Calicut. Blessed with charm and good looks, Bobby moves to Madras to study engineering. Madras becomes the new home of the younger Mugaseths. His elder sister was excommunicated for marrying Gopalaswami Parthsarthi, who joins The Hindu. His other sister, Nugs, the grandmother of the author Raghu Karnad, falls in love and eventually marries a Kodava, Kodandera Ganapthy aka Ganny. His youngest sister, Kosh married Manek Dadabhoy, the dashing young Parsi who took to flying like a duck to water. The threads of war, the struggle for Indian independence and the struggles of the Mugaseths, are all entangled with one another in the book.

Many books have been written about World War II, but the narrative has always overlooked the importance of the soldiers and officers from the Indian sub-continent. The book is a great read to know more about the contribution of the Indian Army to World War II. Many forgotten facts of World WarII come to light, for instance, the fact that even Madras at one point, was at risk from Japanese invasion. The war action shifts from NWFP to Egypt, to Basra and finally culminates in the siege of Kohima. The war scenes are described in great details, with the siege of Kohima getting its due. The so-called “Forgotten Army”, the one which fought on the North-Eastern Frontier of India, is brought into prominence in this book. It brings to the reader the importance and the significance of the Indian Army in helping Great Britain get the upper hand in World War II.

It is an astonishing fact that even though more than two million men and women served the Indian Army, their services during World War are forgotten, even in India. The book lays bare the prejudices against the Indian officers in the Indian Army before the start of World War II, and the Indian officers getting their due after the introduction of the Emergency Commission which gave them equal pay and rank on par with the White Officers. Verghese Kurien and Laksmi Sahgal also make a fleeting appearance in the book.

Non-fiction books based on dry war facts are not what I would pick for myself, but this book is different. Farthest Field has been classified as a non-fiction book, but it is not a scholarly tome, it has a human heart. What makes this book exceptional is that it touches you on a personal level. The human element of the Mugaseth family makes you invested in the story, eager to know more. Bobby Mugaseth gets resurrected as your friend, as he goes gallivanting through his life.

“Death is a field from which no one returns. The second death is the farthest field of all. That was where I found Bobby, trying to cross.”

Raghu Karnad, Farthest Fields

The Itsy Bitsy Spyder ~ Apeksha Rao

Samira Joshi’s family seems to be a regular Indian family. Samira is a grade twelve student planning to do political science in college, her parents work in civil services and her grandmother keeps an eagle eye on Samira. The normality of the family, however, is a facade. Samira’s parents are elite intelligence agents for R&AW, and that is the career path Samira has chosen for herself…she wants to become a spy!

Samira hasn’t had your regular run-of-the-mill childhood. Samira is a Krav Maga champion, who can hack into bank accounts. She can trail people, is excellent in picking pockets or in fact, even in planting suspicious stuff on lecherous old men at airports, etc. In other words, Samira has been given a very good foundation course in becoming a spy by her parents. But suddenly her parents have had a change of heart and don’t want her to become a spy anymore….and predictably Samira rebels.

As Samira digs in her heels about becoming a spy, Samira’s mother, stung by a neighbourhood auntie’s comment, sends Samira to a psychologist to sort out Samira’s trust issues. All the Bond Drama (as phrased by Samira’s grandmother) of Joshi family starts tumbling out from Samira’s mouth, including shoot outs at thread ceremonies and killer robot machines encountered on a family vacation.

The deadly cocktail of characters in the book includes a sarcastic no-nonsense Grandmother, can-kill-with-bare hands mother and a snarky, rebellious teenager. Samira’s father appears in the anecdotes as a tough guy who will do his job despite all the odds. Considering it’s a YA novel, I am sure the targeted audience will love Samira for her sassiness and clarity of what she wants to do in her life. With Samira, you have a desi spy to look up to. You can imagine her bringing down villains with the sharp edge of her tongue or a solid Krav Maga kick. Samira’s mother Alka is a force of nature, capable of killing a man with her bare hands. She loves Samira dearly and would do anything to protect her, even if it means being at odds with Samira. I loved Aji, Samira’s grandmother, who has a macabre interest in reading obituaries to find out who amongst her acquaintances has passed on to the eternal garden. Aji wants her family to be normal and doesn’t hesitate in speaking her mind or criticising the way Samira has been brought up by her parents.

The narrative from Samira’s viewpoint is crisp and fast-paced. Samira’s mental descriptions keep you amused (“That woman could smile at the Grim Reaper and he’d turn his scythe on himself“). You are chuckling endlessly while reading the dialogues between Samira and her mother (“Now apologize to Sir about your miserable existence, I mean, attendance“). Aji, Samira’s feisty grandmother keeps things interesting in the mix with her sarcastic comments (“I told you it was a bad idea to tell her all those bedtime stories about Noor Inayat Khan. What was wrong with Cinderella?“).  

I was reading a YA book after a very long time and I just raced through it. Unfortunately, this one left me hanging at the end desperate to know more. It ended so soon! I wanted to know more about what happened in Pakistan, about where Samira’s dad was, and the biggest question of them all, does Samira finally succeed in becoming a spy?

Guess will have to wait for “Along Came A Spyder!”

About the Author

Apeksha Rao is a multi-genre writer from Bangalore. 

She is the author of Along came a Spyder which is the story of a seventeen-year old girl who wants to become a spy.

Apeksha has written many short stories based on the same series, The Spyders, which are available on her blog https://apeksharao.in/

Buy this book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/dp/B08DM6PZ12